Monday, April 17, 2017

You are (not) what you eat

Every time I visit India, and when it is time for me to pack up to return home, I am asked the same questions by people around me, which are all variations of "are you taking with you sweets and savories?"

I tell them that I am not.  The reason is simply: I usually eat from whatever is available in the place where I am traveling.

In Costa Rica, I ate whatever tasty stuff that I got from the local diner and baker.  I ate what I was provided in Tanzania.  It is the same in Canada, France, wherever.   If I can't get nutritious vegetarian dishes, then I reluctantly reach for a cooked carcass! ;)

What we eat is cultural, not biological.  Which is why any fad for diets amuses me.  A few years ago, my grandmother claimed that the Idli/yogurt combination was the healthiest ever.  In response, I asked her to explain how the Japanese, who don't know idli, live long and healthy lives.  "They eat a lot of fish.  Will you also eat fish?" I asked her.  I tell ya, the eternal skeptic annoys everybody, including his grandmother!

These are the kinds of reasons why I agree with this author who writes that "the so-called Paleo diet is a myth."   Now, unlike me, the author is a real expert: "Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor and director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas."  Ungar writes:
Many paleoanthropologists today believe that increasing climate fluctuation through the Pleistocene sculpted our ancestors—whether their bodies, or their wit, or both—for the dietary flexibility that’s become a hallmark of humanity. The basic idea is that our ever-changing world winnowed out the pickier eaters among us. Nature has made us a versatile species, which is why we can find something to satiate us on nearly all of its myriad biospheric buffet tables. It’s also why we have been able to change the game, transition from forager to farmer, and really begin to consume our planet.
We humans eat an enormous variety of foods.  The Finns eat differently from the Tamils whose foods are different from what Peruvians eat.  No other animal does like what we do.  Without understanding this, people--about three million Americans alone--are on a paleo diet.  But, did even the paleo people have any universal "paleo diet"?
From the standpoint of paleoecology, the Paleolithic diet is a myth. Food choice is as much about what’s available to be eaten as it is about what a species evolved to eat. And just as fruits ripen, leaves flush, and flowers bloom predictably at different times of the year, foods available to our ancestors varied over deep time as the world changed around them from warm and wet to cool and dry and back again. Those changes are what drove our evolution.
What our ancestors ate depended on where they lived.
Consider some of the recent hunter-gatherers who have inspired Paleolithic diet enthusiasts. The Tikiġaġmiut of the north Alaskan coast lived almost entirely on the protein and fat of marine mammals and fish, while the Gwi San in Botswana’s Central Kalahari took something like 70 percent of their calories from carbohydrate-rich, sugary melons and starchy roots. Traditional human foragers managed to earn a living from the larger community of life that surrounded them in a remarkable variety of habitats, from near-polar latitudes to the tropics.
So, when we refer to a paleo-style diet, which paleo are we referring to?  The Kalahari's carbohydrate rich food?  The Alaskan sea food diet?

It is one crazy world out there, and I have to struggle to maintain my sanity.

I have my own dietary protocols.  A slice of bread with rich European butter and a tall mug of coffee is the reward for waking up.  Then a handful of nuts with another mug of coffee.  An awesome cheese sandwich for lunch and a banana.  Later, coffee with a few cookies.  And then dinner, with a postprandial orange.

There is no place in this for sweets and savories from India. ;)


Ramesh said...

As usual, I am flummoxed with all this attention to food. Doesn't everybody have anything better to do ??

Paleo diet ??? Had never heard of it, but this takes the cake.

Go Soylent !

Sriram Khé said...

There are that many more things more important than food????

I worry that people do not pay enough attention to food. If they did, we will all be that much better off.

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